How To Raise A Well-Rounded Child
It’s possible for parents to raise well-rounded kids without ramping up pressure or piling on after-school commitments.
All parents want their child to grow up healthy and happy. To most of us, that means raising a child with a wide variety of interests, a solid work ethic, and the ability to take both failure and success in stride.
Sound like a tall order? True, saddling kids with too many academic or recreational pursuits in the quest for wide-ranging success can backfire. In one recent study, researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder found that 6-year-olds who were allowed more unstructured time had better self-directed planning and organizing skills than those who were scheduled to the hilt. It’s possible for parents to raise well-rounded kids without ramping up pressure or piling on after-school commitments, by encouraging traits like self-confidence, self-control and a balanced outlook that can help children handle all of life’s ups and downs.
Success in the classroom or the boardroom may begin long before a child ever sets foot in either one. Security and stability on the homefront form the foundation for a happy, well-rounded childhood, says Gail Gross, a nationally recognized family and child development expert, author and educator. Parents don’t need to be routine robots, but should establish and stick to a simple daily pattern of relatively consistent mealtimes and bedtimes.
“Sticking to routine, being consistent with discipline, and keeping a structured routine at home can establish security for toddlers,” Gross says.
Before a child can become skillful at a pursuit or enjoy a cherished pastime, he needs to feel competent in his own abilities, says family therapist Brooke Schmaling, a licensed clinical social worker in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. “Confidence and competence develop naturally for young children when they master skills, which requires practice and effort. Praise determination, hard work and small victories!”
Teaching kids to bounce back from failure can help keep them on the path to success. Elementary-age children often idolize successful athletes, musicians and actors, admiring their shimmering aura of success without realizing that nobody is successful all the time. As elementary-age children dip their toes in various extracurricular activities, parents should resist the natural urge to rescue them or let them quit as soon as they experience a failure, Schmaling says.
“Try to resist the urge to jump in and help or do things for them, even if they seem to be struggling. Instead, be a cheerleader. Provide words of encouragement and support to let them know you believe in them.”
Highlighting a child’s effort (“I’m so impressed with how hard you’re working at this”) as opposed to the outcome of that effort, helps keep the focus on work ethic, determination and drive, traits that will help your child succeed in a variety of arenas later on.
Yin and Yang
As teens delve into academic and athletic pursuits and begin looking toward college, it’s easy to get swept into the numbers game. Many high-schoolers, and their parents, can quickly rattle off stats from mile time to class rank. But a laser-focus on tangible measures of success can detract from the importance of fostering less-visible traits like kindness, empathy and self-control — traits that may be just as important to future success as an impressive grade-point average.
In a study published by the National Academy of Sciences, children with better self-control were healthier, wealthier and less likely to run afoul of the law as adults. Other studies link kindness and empathy to higher levels of social and emotional competence. Create family mottos around kindness, empathy and self-control, and post them in visible spots at home.
“Remember that children, even teenagers, are constantly learning from their parents’ examples,” Schmaling says. Every day, parents have opportunities to model humility, grace and courage, all qualities that add up to a well-rounded — and totally grounded — adult.
Malia Jacobson is an award-winning health and parenting journalist and mom of three. Her latest book is “Sleep Tight, Every Night: Helping Toddlers and Preschoolers Sleep Well Without Tears, Tricks, or Tirades.”